The Use of Toe by Toe in Prisons

Toe By Toe and the Shannon Trust

“What has been the single best thing introduced in the last ten years? My money would be on the Toe By Toe reading scheme sponsored by the Shannon Trust. The simple but brilliant idea behind Toe By Toe is to recruit prisoners who are literate to help those who are not. By my estimate, several thousand prisoners have now learnt how to read as a result.”

– Stephen Shaw, Prisons and Probation Ombudsman, October 2007

The Shannon Trust is a charity dedicated to improving the literacy skills of prisoners. For fourteen years the Trust provided free copies of Toe By Toe to any prison that adopted the Toe By Toe Reading Plan. This included the vast majority of prisons within England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

In many schools in the U.K Toe By Toe is used in a ‘buddy system’ where older, fluent readers take younger students through the manual and, in so doing, build up the self-esteem of both parties. This buddy system was also used successfully in prisons where literate offenders used Toe By Toe to teach prisoners with limited reading skills in short daily sessions. The results were impressive. In 2014 for example, in a snapshot survey conducted by the Shannon Trust, 85 per cent of 778 prisoners felt their literacy skills were improving. It is clear therefore, that since 2001 the Toe By Toe system has significantly improved the reading skills of thousands of prisoners.

The Shannon Trust continues to operate. We commend their work.




Success stories

Toe By Toe works with and not against my education provider and I truly believe it provides a better opportunity for the offenders in reducing their risk of re-offending and gaining further education or employment on release.”

Rob Davis, Governing Governor, HMP Chelmsford

“The Shannon Trust Reading Plan (Toe By Toe ) really can perform miracles. It’s the best thing that ever happened to me, even though it meant coming to prison to learn to read.”

Prisoner at a large ‘Category C’ prison in the West Midlands

“I feel very proud of myself that I have taken this bad time in my life and I am making the best of it by trying to give back to others and by bettering myself.”

Learner who became a mentor HMP Pentonville

princess-annePrincess Anne on a visit to HMYOI Portland in 2010 discusses the Shannon Trust Reading Plan (Toe By Toe) with prison officer Lisa Dowsett and a Toe By Toe mentordavid-cameronToe By Toe